twenty years

a red brick building with white stone foundation and staircase, with arches and windows
Northlawn dorm, where I lived for three years

I’m spending some time at my undergraduate institution this weekend. Since I moved back to Virginia in 2007, I’ve lived close enough to visit the town and friends there several times a year, though in recent years my calendar and aging pets has made this a more complicated process than it used to be. I have managed to make it back for each of my five-year reunions, as it happens, and the fourth one of those is tomorrow.

Twenty years. How has it been twenty years? Twenty-one years since I lived in the dorm pictured above and ate in the basement cafeteria. The women’s dorm is now co-ed, I learned with some dismay at my fifteenth reunion. I guess that’s progress of some sort.

I don’t regret my life path to this point, but it wasn’t what I expected when I graduated from college. Some vague pencil marks of the outlines match up, such as getting my graduate degree in library science and continuing to work in higher education. The specifics of where and what, and the things that now fill my everyday — I don’t know if I could have even imagined them back then.

I haven’t done the best job of keeping in touch with my college friends. Casual connections at best, passively keeping up with their lives to the extent that they share them on Facebook. I’ll reconnect with a few tomorrow, probably, and as with years past it will be pleasant but also vaguely awkward, as we try to rekindle connections over twenty years old, and none of us are entirely who we were then.

I’m feeling a mix of things as I think about the next day or so (I’m driving over this evening) ahead of me. There’s a bit of FOMO with not having made firm plans to meet up. There’s a bit of jealousy that so many of my college friends seem to have ended up in the same places and can maintain the connections on a more regular basis. There’s a bit of nostalgia for a more innocent time in my life before adult responsibilities fully kicked in. There’s the ever present desire to be included while feeling like I’m on the outside looking in — not straight enough, not Mennonite enough.

Taking a deep breath and re-centering myself, I hope that regardless of what happens this weekend, I am able to be fully me in all the ways I can be now, and that will be enough. I hope that I am able to rekindle a bit of the connections that were essential to my collegiate successes, and that this will truly feel like a homecoming.

greyscale photo of a group of students with two faculty members, all dressed in winter clothing
my traveling companions, taken before we left for a semester in Ghana in 1996

memory, reunions, and being yourself

This weekend, I’m back in Harrisonburg, Virginia, for Homecoming weekend at my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University. In fact, I am writing this courtesy of the as-yet-not login-required computers in the university library.

Except for the addition of a few more computers, and a small DVD collection where the reference books used to live, the library looks much like it did when I was a student here ten years ago. I think the chairs might be new. They’re more comfortable than I remember.

EMU Campus Center

Not that I remember many details of my college years. That’s the problem I’ve been noticing as I wander around, wondering if the person walking past me was a classmate or if they just look like someone I know. Even the people I’ve met who remember me are fuzzy in my mind. How did I know them then? Did we have a class together? Did we have mutual friends?

I’ve kept in touch with many of my college friends, but we were a small class, so I was acquaintances with most of the rest of them, or at the very least, I knew their name and what they looked like. And, I interacted with students in the other classes which came before and after me. All of this makes it difficult for me to remember just how I knew the people I am reconnecting with now.

In addition to all that, I’ve changed since college. Physically, I’ve put on a great deal of weight, I wear glasses, and my hair is much shorter. Socially, I’m more adept and personable (I think), and I’m less rigid in insisting that my views/philosophies are the only right ones.

I may not remember my old classmates in great detail, but I can’t assume they have as fuzzy memories of me. How do I convey who I am now when the ghost of who I was then still lingers?

Why do I feel that is important? It’s not as though we are a part of each other’s lives anymore and I need their acceptance in order to survive socially. I have gone on for 10 years without them, thankyouverymuch, and I can go on another 10 just the same. However, there is a part of me that craves acceptance, and no matter how much I grow stronger in myself, I still want everyone to like me.

*sigh*

I hope I’ll have gotten over this by our 20 year reunion, but for now, I should head over to the soccer game and see who’s there. Maybe if I show some school spirit it’ll make me seem more like one of them.